Does that mean an older Sensei like Master Tomoyose no longer deserves the title if he can no longer take on some young MMA guy? Doesn't the accrued knowledge and the ability to pass that on to the next generation count for as much, or perhaps more, than being able to take some punk on in the street?
If in fact a 'master' does possess the sum total (or damn close) of martial knowledge for that style, if he in fact did train it and cultivate it and is able to pass it on.. And of course it all depends on what we mean by "it"...
The old Chinese masters, and I do mean OLD.. Where quite well in tune with the very martial purposes of their styles and were aware of the importance of being able to walk the walk even in their later years... When 4' 11" Ip Man, was well into his golden years he was still well known for accepting 'tests' of his ability and blowing away young and energetic students on a daily basis and otherwise whooping butt. His knowledge and his skill was clearly at a very advanced level by today's standards and having actually reached this level he and other's like him despite being quite old were also quite spry and enjoyed "playing" with their students.
An excerpt from this month's Inside Kung fu that illustrates this point:
Master Brendan Lai:
I remember fighting Chang Dung Sheng, a Grand Master of Shuai Chiao. Though 85 years old, Master Chang was a powerful man. He entered my shop as a guest. After some discussion he said, “I understand that you are quite fast. If you would like to strike me, I would like to see if I can beat it.” I believed that in the narrow confines of the shop there was no place for him to evade me, so I agreed and said, “Are you ready?” He indicated that he was, so I charged him, attacking with all my strength. To my surprise, I found myself flying through the air. I landed on my feet behind him. Though I had already assumed a fighting posture, I knew that I had been bested. I saluted him in acknowledgement of the greatness of the man. From that day on he was my hero.
Lots of examples of older Masters exhibiting such abilities, even in their later years, still exuding the enthusiasm for the martial in their martial art and in their own mastery of their art. These folks were in it for, and acknowledge the martial beauty in their beloved art.
Go visit some of the old Hong Kong masters, if you can find them, they all take pride in teaching clever systems of whoop ass... They have no illusions about the purpose of their beloved systems and what they are for: They are for fighting, and fighting smart, fighting cleverly and fighting effectively, they take great pride in this and although some may find it distasteful many were more than happy to be tested or otherwise perform a few 'tricks' for curious visitors. This is the kung fu, especially the Hong Kong kung-fu tradition.
The question is what is the martial
tradition of your style and does the would be 'master' honestly exemplify this?
Not all that sure about Karate; but let's look at what the actual meaning of Master is in kung fu:
In the Chinese tradition of kung-fu training a Master is really the inheritor of the family’s system, which is regarded as a valued family treasure, a gift and a heritage a vessel in a sense of that family’s martial honor and spirit. There was normally only one of these senior disciples per generation, a special student, a trustworthy student, a talented student and a dedicated student. This special student, often a first son, would be taught the entire system and all available knowledge of the system would *eventually* be passed to him and normally only him.
This disciple is the 'first son' of the style and clan for his generation, when his training is complete and the old master either retires or passes on this leadership role is officially transferred to this student, at which time he becomes the “Master.” This means that HE now represents the style both in form and in functionality in combat, very simply at this point he IS the style. It is this disciple’s honor and his responsibility to accept challenges for the style, train the style, preserve the style and even make changes to the style if and when he feels it is necessary.
The knowledge passed to this disciple includes not simply forms and drills but a complete understanding and functional ability in all the combative lessons, all the combative movements and all combative theory in the system, and perhaps more importantly, exactly how and why the style is taught or transmitted to cultivate its unique set of martial attributes within its followers to create a functional fighter of that style.
So what’s a Master?
You decide if Master X can lay a claim of this magnitude and back it up.